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Third Circuit: Female Jail Guard Loses Discrimination, Wrongful Termination Case

by David M. Reutter

On December 31, 2018, in an unpublished ruling, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a summary judgment order in a lawsuit that alleged employment discrimination. The appellate court found that officials at Pennsylvania’s Franklin County Jail (FCJ) had properly terminated the plaintiff, a female guard, after a prisoner accused her of inappropriate conduct.

Lisa Hatch worked at FCJ from 2008 until she was fired in 2014. While there was “an extensive factual background with respect to Hatch’s employment history at FCJ, particularly in regard to alleged instances of improper conduct,” the Third Circuit focused only on the disciplinary incident that led to her termination.

Jail prisoner Karl Rogers reported on February 17, 2014 that Hatch made personal and sexual comments to him, that she was on “psycho meds for her nerves,” and that she complained about her job and other staff members. His complaints led to an investigation by FCJ’s Prison Rape Elimination Act Investigation Team. Pursuant to that investigation, Hatch was asked to prepare an incident report describing her interactions with Rogers. In interviews, she substantiated some of his claims. As she was writing the report, Hatch requested and was granted leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, which put the investigation on hold.

When she returned to work, the investigation resumed and she was terminated. Hatch then filed suit, alleging disability discrimination, retaliation and a hostile work environment. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants and Hatch appealed.

The Third Circuit noted that to prevail on her disability discrimination claim, Hatch had to provide evidence that would allow a factfinder to disbelieve the non-discriminatory reason for the firing or to determine that discrimination was “more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the adverse employment action.” Hatch relied solely on her own affidavit, which the Court of Appeals said was insufficient, standing alone, to meet her evidentiary burden.

The Court also found that “the timeline of events leading to Hatch’s termination contradicts her claim of retaliation.” Further, the evidence she presented as to her hostile work environment claim did “not rise to the level of severe or pervasive.” The district court’s summary judgment order was therefore affirmed. See: Hatch v. Franklin County, 755 Fed. Appx. 194 (3d Cir. 2018). 

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Related legal case

Hatch v. Franklin County